President Obama: "In my lifetime we will have a Latino candidate for President"

In an unprecedented 50-minute chat streamed live online, President Obama sat down with Latino journalists in the White House’s map room to answer an array of questions posed by Hispanics nationwide. Among his comments: He expects a viable Latino presidential candidate within his lifetime.

In “Open for Questions,” journalists from AOL Latino/Huffington Post Latino Voices, Yahoo Latino and MSN Latino asked 13 questions out of the hundreds that readers sent in. The topics ranged from immigration to jobs, health care to foreign policy and the possibility of statehood for Puerto Rico.

When asked why his administration had deported more illegal immigrants than any other, Obama said that many of those deportations had happened at the border soon after entry and said that his administration continued to target criminals as opposed to students and immigrants with no criminal history.

He reiterated his support for the Dream Act, but added that those who would have him sign executive orders to remedy immigration issues had done a “great disservice done to the cause of getting the Dream Act passed and getting comprehensive immigration passed by perpetrating the notion that somehow by myself, I can go and do these things.”

“I have to continue saying that this notion that I can somehow change laws unilaterally is just not true,” Obama said. “We are doing everything we can administratively but the fact of the matter is that there ware laws on the books that I have to enforce.”

He said that the American Jobs Act he recently presented to Congress had the potential to create 1.9 million jobs—including infrastructure-rebuilding jobs—and created tax breaks for small businesses, 250,000 of which are Latino-owned. But he acknowledged that that was a significant but short-term fix.

Long term, the country’s economic future depends on Latinos, who will make up the majority of the workforce, said Obama, who later named increasing educational achievement as the single biggest challenge facing Latinos. “How do we create an economy that will be more competitive, more productive and is employing more people,” Obama said. “For that we have tot improve our education system, which is why we put so much emphasis on reform. We have a lot of people dropping out at a time when its very hard to find a job not only if you don’t have a high school degree but some advanced training.”

Obama quoted his administration’s revamp of student loans as freeing up billions for Pell Grants. He also mentioned upping stateside manufacturing and exports and investing in technology and research as long-term fixes.

On the topic of American guns crossing the border and being sold to drug cartels responsible for some 40,000 murders in the past few years, Obama said that he had increased border vehicle checks in hopes of uncovering guns and drug money. On another Mexican note, when asked what the U.S. could do to help improve Mexico’s economy, Obama said he had worked with President Felipe Calderon to improve cross-border trades but didn’t offer specifics, and he added that “Ultimately, the Mexican economy is going to depend on changing some of the structures internally to increase productivity and train the workforce there, so education in Mexico is going to be also very important.”

Obama said that Congress should only address Puerto Rico’s status—whether to remain a territory, seek statehood, or become independent—when Puerto Ricans themselves have addressed the issue decisively via referendum.

The most interesting answer of the afternoon came when the President was asked whether, with buzz around Sen. Marco Rubio running for Vice President, he thought it was time for a Hispanic VP and/or President. Obama response? “I’m absolutely certain that in my lifetime we will have a Latino candidate for president and may win," he proclaimed decisively. "Just look at the demographics: the Latino population is growing faster than the rest of the population.”

But, he noted, in order for a Latino to come to power, political engagement is absolutely necessary. “With numbers coms political power. The challenge for Latinos across the country is: Are folks registered? Are they voting? We still have not seen the kind of numbers that arte necessary to match up with actual political power. My hope is that in 2012, 2016, 2020, you’ll see political participation increase and that will inevitably lead to both parties being more responsive to Latino issues. If you’re voting in a low rate, you are giving up some of your power.”